TFC face tired Galaxy squad

Toronto FC's Torsten Frings battles for the ball with L.A. Galaxy's Mike Magee during their...

Toronto FC's Torsten Frings battles for the ball with L.A. Galaxy's Mike Magee during their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., March 7, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/Reuters)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:19 PM ET

TORONTO - Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena voiced his displeasure Saturday night after watching his side fall at home for the first time in more than a year.

“Very poor job on behalf of the league in terms of the scheduling,” Arena said. “We hit the wall.”

Set to play its third game in eight days when the Galaxy hosts Toronto in the second leg of tonight’s Champions League quarterfinal, the league’s marquee franchise called out the league’s front office for an unfair travel schedule that Arena said “cost” L.A. on the weekend.

After securing a well-earned 2-2 draw at the Rogers Centre last week, MLS scheduled L.A. a weekend league fixture sandwiched in between the club’s two Champions League quarterfinal dates with TFC.

Adding insult to injury, Toronto and Seattle — two of the league’s three remaining CONCACAF participants — were left off the opening weekend schedule for what would appear to be no other reason than a need to rest.

“The two games (last) week added up to being a pretty tired team,” Arena said following a 3-1 loss to Salt Lake on Saturday. But according to league officials, the situation was simply unavoidable.

“There was no way around it,” MLS commissioner Don Garber told a group of reporters in L.A. on the weekend “(The Galaxy aren’t) happy about it, but there are just so many games ... It’s the way that the schedule played out.”

That is, in a decidedly favourable way for Toronto.

Although Landon Donovan’s late equalizer complicates tonight’s second leg, fatigue has clearly set in. Donovan, Edson Buddle, Robbie Keane and David Beckham have already stretched their legs for 180 minutes the past seven days and failed to close their weekend match against RSL.

Although he held out midfield engine Juninho and defender Andrew Boyens on Saturday, they were the only lineup changes Arena made after competing on an artificial surface on the opposite side of the continent just days before — tactics Arena regrets.

“I take full responsibility for that,” Arena told his club’s website.

The Galaxy head coach went on to say he’ll likely make changes heading into tonight’s Champions League return leg.

Which calls into question how the Reds should approach tonight’s decisive second leg.

With the away goals rule in effect, excluding a 2-2 draw — which would see the match extended into extra-time — the Reds must win tonight’s game in order to progress.

In similar situations, head coach Aron Winter has thrown caution to the wind. As demonstrated last October when TFC travelled to Dallas in need of three points on the final group stage day, Winter might push Torsten Frings into midfield beside Julian de Guzman, who is expected to return from suspension tonight.

But in playing an open brand, it could leave Toronto exposed at the back. Keane undressed defensive stand-in Ty Harden in Toronto last week and an early Galaxy goal would diminish any hope of the Reds advancing to the CONCACAF semifinals.

As a result, look for Winter to stay the course.

Toronto should start in its defensive 5-4-1, the same way it started a week ago, in an effort to enter halftime on level terms. After “hitting the wall” this past week, L.A. will undoubtedly sit back and look to protect its away-goals advantage coming out of the break, especially with another league fixture looming.

As the Galaxy drops numbers in the second half, it will allow a patient TFC to transition into its familiar 4-3-3 in search of goals.

With the right amount of patience, tonight’s match should open up for the Reds. But much of it hinges on Winter getting things right. While entering a must-win match with an offensive mindset has provided the necessary result in the past, after allowing a pair of away goals last week, the Reds can’t afford to concede an early dagger in California.

MARQUEE MATCHUP

Ty Harden vs. Robbie Keane

Can the Reds keep Keane off the board through 180 minutes? It’s no secret Toronto’s defence struggled to contain the Irish international in Toronto last week. And had Torsten Frings not been instructed to sit next to Harden, more holes would have opened for Keane to exploit. Take the German out of the equation and TFC’s central pairing of Harden and Miguel Aceval isn’t all that convincing. Although it will take a monumental effort to breakdown the Galaxy at home, it will take an even bigger effort to shutdown Keane and Edson Buddle for an additional 90 minutes. There will come a time tonight when the Reds are forced to throw numbers forward and expose their back four. How Toronto’s defensive pairing handles less cover will determine if the Reds are still alive in the late stages.

TFC KEYS

CLEAR YOUR LINES

The Reds are in a hole because of the bad goals they conceded a week ago. A poor clearance from Stefan Frei allowed the Galaxy to pull one back early in the second half last week and poor marking gifted Landon Donovan a late equalizer. Should the Reds provide the Galacticos similar opportunities again, things could be decided by halftime.

SLOW START, FAST FINISH

Stay compact early and the game will open up. In not allowing a first-half goal, L.A. will undoubtedly concede the field. On its third game in a week, the Galaxy will drop back to protect its away-goals advantage. The Reds have the quality to unlock a bunkering L.A. defence.

CUP QUICK HITS

— Tonight’s winner becomes the second MLS team to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals. The winner will meet one of Mexico’s Santos Laguna or the Seattle Sounders for a chance to advance to the final. The Sounders carry a 2-1 scoreline into Torreon, Mexico, tonight, needing just a draw to secure passage into the last four.

— The confederation has selected what it’s calling a veteran Panamanian officiating crew for tonight’s second leg at the Home Depot Centre. Referee Roberto Moreno will be in charge of his third knockout phase game, including last year’s final in Salt Lake City.

— Tonight’s attendance at the Home Depot Centre is capped at 7,500 due to an agreement with the university that houses the Galaxy’s home ground. Due to Cal State Dominguez Hills being a commuter school, the university has a long-standing agreement that weekday matches be capped.

— Following this week’s CONCACAF quarterfinals, the competition’s semifinals pick up at the end of this month. The Champions League final will be played in mid-April with the winner of a two-leg series advancing to the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup.


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